antedating of "cancan" (hoochy-coochy)

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Fri Jan 10 18:30:19 UTC 2003

> >... The Princess, Messrs Joinville and d'Aumale, with Mesdames
> Liardiere,>and Hochet, danced the cancan, a sort of cachuca,
> danced outside the gates
> >of Paris, not without grace, but very free in its attitudes. ....
> And is "cachuca"/"cachucha" an ancestor of "hoochy-coochy"?
> An interesting passage.
> -- Doug Wilson

I was hoping that someone more learned than myself would reply to this.

Assuming that hoochy coochy is a phrase like razzle dazzle, only one half of it needs to be meaningful.

HDAS and OED agree that the first appearance of "hootchy-kootchy" is in 1890, as an expression, a greeting, used by a minstrel show performer known as Billy "hoochy-coochy" Rice.  HDAS has it referring to the dance in 1895, the OED in 1898.  George Odell, Annals of the New York Stage has more or less numerous references to Billy Rice in vols. 8-13, (the season of 1868/69) through volume 13 (the season of 1887/88).  There are a few reference to Rice in vols. 14 and 15 (the last of the set), but he seems to hvae been not very active (in NYC anyway) in the early/mid 90s.  The last reference is from the season of 1893/94.  I didn't look at every one of these references, but all the ones I did look at are a simple lising of his name as part of the ensemble of "Haverly's Mammoth Minstrel" show or the other companies he was associated with.  Odell's method of citing his sources seems ragged, but is actually fairly reliable, and tracing them might clarify Rice's use of hoochy coochy!
.  Before doing that, someone might check the clippings file at the NYPL's theatre division at Lincoln Center, that Barry has cited more than once.  I myself don't expect to be at Lincoln Center's library anytime soon.

The OED has "cachucha" from 1840, as a lively Spanish dance.

the dictionary of the Real Accademia doesn't give dates or citations, but indicates that the cachucha is danced with castanets.  So does the Oxford dictionary of Dance.

Le Grand Robert (2001) has "cancan" from 1829 and "cachucha" from 1836, citing Paul de Kock ("Nice name he has" -- Molly Bloom)

the International Dictionary of Dance (1998) has an entry on the cancan: "At the time, dance writers compared it with the chahut, a rowdy dance performed in Paris at public ball-rooms. . . ."  Its entry on cachucha is a cross reference to an entry on the ballet Le diable boiteux, first performed in Paris in 1836: Fanny Elssler caused a sensation by dancing a cachucha in the role of Florinda.

The best the NYTimes historical database can do is "Hootchy-eye", a place in Alaska, from November 30, 1897 and an element in "Chattahootchy", a place in the south.  I limited the search to before 1901, but checked variant spellings.

Where does this all leave us?

Is there any chance that either Hootchie or Cootchie can be Indian words?


George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern Univ. Pr., 1998.

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